Orwell’s essay ‘Such, Such Were the Joys’
That was really good. Throughout my life I have observed a lot of bullying which is sad, but I also learned that there was usually a sad reason as to why the bully was the way he/she was. Everyone in life has some kind of fight that they are living with. It's up to us as human beings to empathize and learn what that fight might be.
Great piece. Loved the way you shifted between Orwell and yourself to make the memoir constantly interesting and surprising. And the tone was perfect: revealing but never self-pitying.
I was educated at an English primary/elementary school in Rome; I say "English" rather than "British" because that was the descriptor in the full name of the school. Nowadays, most English language-based schools in foreign countries are now called international schools, just as they've removed "Episcopal" from the names of private Anglo-American schools. We lived in fear of being packed off to boarding school in England.
The Brits are a particularly sadistic culture, much more so back in the days of Empire. The largest BDSM club in the world, Torture Garden, is in London; you aren't allowed in without proper attire. Eton is a Club Med compared to where the king went, Gordonstoun, on the bleak northern coast of Scotland; 'The Crown' shows a sliver of what he suffered, but his father insisted he go there instead of Eton, per the series — not all of it is inaccurate.
However, I'd say that Americans are worse these days; the vast majority of us don't comprehend quite how aggressive and terrifying we seem, especially to foreign children. After I switched to an American school in Rome, I was bullied for the first time in my life over the first semester of my freshman year. Per my post about drag being a form of blackface, the bullying stoped after I appeared in drag in the Christmas pantomime, an English tradition that was until recently a norm in Anglo-American all-boys schools and colleges in the northeast. When I was in school, they still performed Shakespeare the original way at all-boys' boarding schools, with boys in female roles.
Regarding being an outsider as a teen: Do you think that might be quite common with hypersensitive people? Most good, professional creatives I know are HSP. My niece is, too; I was chatting with her about it last night, telling her how I've learned to treat it like a superpower rather than viewing it as a weakness through the lens of American hyper-machismo.
You prompted me to look up the descriptors for the different kinds of schools. Bizarrely, places like Eton and Gordonstoun that Americans call "private" are called "publics schools" in Britain; our public school is called "state school." I've never gotten used to it; when I lived in London I would clarify with "our private, your public." I believe that a private school in the UK was home schooling on a nobleman's estate; most of the palaces/castles/stately homes had classrooms for the children. The governess or a tutor taught all subjects.
I was also curious as to whether the term "prep school" also meant it was private; that's the connotation in the Northeast — it scanned as being redundant through my Yankee gaze. But it can indeed also be public/state. On the other hand, Google tells me that "boarding schools" are private. That might also be a regional thing.
Honest and touching, Michael.
This is one of those moments where I would normally say "the public school system is broken." (which it is, to put it mildly) But I guess private schools aren't much better a lot of the time either. Which is why I now say: "they both suck. Homeschool your kids." It would solve (or at least largely reduce) a lot of problems, including bullying, simply because one isn't putting their kids into an environment that basically functions like a prison. Incidentally, more than a few of the greatest writers were homeschooled or partially homeschooled.
Sucks to hear you had to go through all that. At least you had a lot of good music to listen to. (Also love Social Distortion, by the way! But couldn't comment on your other post so I'm mentioning it now.)
As your commenters say, Bullying is just as bad now as it was in Orwell's time. He just writes more eloquently about it but a spade is a spade. Today it is much more insideous in the fact it's moved online. Kids are much more beholden behind a keyboard. Bullying clearly changed how you saw yourself as well as Orwell and you were are able to look back & reflect but that's certainly not true for everyone. Wonder what happened to Jaime........
"Thoughts of suicide and murder frequently entered my young mind then." - glad you made it out the other side without committing either.
I agree with Daniel below: bullying is a global epidemic. Along with bringing back civics, we should teach civility.
A central question we all need to answer: as humans what is our responsibility to each other and to the planet we share both with our own and many other species?
Bullying is an epidemic in todays society that’s never bern fully addressed, in my professional opinion. And I say “professional” due to my years of law enforcement, firefighting, and paramedic work.
I dealt with bullying when I was growing up, in all levels of me education. I was the biggest child in the school. I don’t care what grade or school I attended, I was the biggest. I was raised on a farm. I didn’t wear the high dollar clothes the other kids wore. And, being bigger, I had a tendency to be clumsier at times. Bullying pretty much kept me well known in the principles, or deans, office.
In my junior high (now middle) school I attended we had several kids that made it their day to tell you about the clothes you wore, or your style of haircut, or the fact that you were heavy, “fat”, “ugly”, etc. Personally, I got tired of it. I started trying to knock them out.
Things didn’t change in high school, or college. And, I have to admit now, it was their bullying that led me to the law enforcement career. All through my 29+ years as a law enforcement officer, firefighter and paramedic I saw bullying going on. I even still dealt with it at the places where I worked, believe it or not. But when you stand 6’7” and weigh 480+, able to pick up the ass end of a tractor, people have a tendency to not smart-talk, or bully you.
I remember one incident at the sheriff’s department I worked at. I walked in the back door one day to start duty when one of our department bullies rounded the corner and said something smart to me. He happened to catch me at a time I didn’t feel up to listening to any of his B, S,, so I stopped and ask him what he said. He laughed and in a smart attitude he repeated himself gif his buddies that stood there. I picked his 5’5” body up by the collar with hand and ‘gently’ placed him gently up on the wall where I could talk to him eye to eye. I explained to him if anything like that, or the other crap I’d heard him spout off to some of the others came out of his mouth ever again, I’d personally take him out back and teach him some manners in a style I was positive he’d not like.
Long story short, he got the message, and calmed his bullying nonsense down.
Not everyone can handle a bully like I did, or could. And it’s a real problem still, in todays society. We have a lot of people, children, teenagers, and adults, committing suicide every year just because they are bullied.
This is an epidemic that we need to stop!